Stadium name change denied

Jan. 26, 2006, midnight | By Kathy Jee | 14 years, 7 months ago

Panel votes against naming stadium after former senior

A committee of parents, students and teachers decided against naming the Blair football stadium after deceased student Andrew Helgeson, according to Roger Beach, a parent on the committee.

The nine-person committee decided at a Jan. 11 meeting to reject a petition, written by several students and parents last August, to name the stadium after Helgeson, after reading letters from members of the Blair community. "We were really trying to represent the Blair community, not us as individuals," Beach said. "From the discussion, it was clear that all individuals had taken time to review the letters."

One concern of the committee was that the recognition of Helgeson would make it appear that other deceased students were not as important. "Because of Blair's long history, consideration was given to the fact that many Blair alumni have lost their lives through military service or accidents," Beach explained. Helgeson, an all-county lacrosse player and recipient of the 2005 Terry Hicks Memorial Scholarship Award, died suddenly of cardiac arrhythmia on May 25, 2005.

The committee, which was headed by non-voting chairman Principal Phillip Gainous, tried to be objective in its decision. "I felt the process was held very fairly. The feedback from the community was given considerable consideration," Beach said.

Senior Scott Rathbone, a committee member and a close friend of Helgeson, found it particularly difficult to make a decision on the stadium name. "I had a lot of trouble deciding because I knew him so personally, but I thought it was important to think of the Blair community and what they would want," he said.

The committee is currently trying to decide on other ways to honor Helgeson. A follow-up subcommittee meeting headed by lacrosse coach Robert Gibb was held on Monday to discuss a variety of options suggested by the committee as well as the community. Gibb will meet with three of the original petitioners: parents Bill Kojola, Mark Ginsberg and Beach.

One of the proposed options is putting up a plaque for Helgeson in what Gibb calls "Helge Corner," the area near the scoreboard where the lacrosse team gathers for halftime. "It does not require a formal naming process and is something Principal Gainous would process internally," Beach said. An alumni lacrosse game in the spring was also suggested.

While the committee deliberated over the stadium name, Helgeson's parents set up a foundation last November in Helgeson's name to honor him and educate others about sudden cardiac death (SCD). Helgeson died of SCD after experiencing unexpected heart failure.

A major goal of the Richard Andrew Helgeson Memorial Foundation is to establish a heart screening process for athletes that would be conducted by doctors and volunteer technicians. The screenings would first be performed on Blair lacrosse players and then expand to other schools and sports, depending on time and resources, according to Richard Helgeson, Helgeson's father.

Funded by individual donations, the foundation plans to award a scholarship each year to a Blair athlete who best exhibits Helgeson's qualities both on and off the field. The Helgeson family hopes to gain more exposure for SCD through the scholarship.

SCD accounts for approximately 400,000 deaths each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The Gregory W. Moyer Defibrillator Fund learned about Helgeson's story through news about the possible stadium naming and will both donate an automated external defibrillator (AED) to Blair and provide training for its use, according to Rita Helgeson, Helgeson's mother.

The fund, named after a Pennsylvania high-school athlete who died of SCD during the halftime of a basketball game in 2000, raises money to supply schools with AEDs, which can cost between $1,200 and $3,000.

Although their efforts are only in the planning stages, the Helgesons are working to make defibrillators accessible in all Montgomery County public schools. For now, however, the school system favors CPR and first-aid training for staff, according to MCPS safety supervisor Pam Montgomery.

Recently, the County Council created a work group in collaboration with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services to study where defibrillators should be placed in public buildings. "After that report, we will reevaluate the issue," said Montgomery.

Kathy Jee. Kathy Jee is a junior in the Magnet Program and is excited to be a part of the wonderful Silver Chips staff. When not in school, she enjoys playing basketball and obsessing over "American Idol." She is looking forward to another stressful year of school... More »

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